Posts Tagged Malaysia

China Sends Missiles to Disputed South China Sea Island

Woody islandChina has deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile system to one of the disputed islands it controls in the South China Sea, Taiwan and U.S. officials said, ratcheting up tensions even as U.S. President Barack Obama urged restraint in the region.

Taiwan defense ministry spokesman Major General David Lo said on Wednesday the missile batteries had been set up on Woody Island. The island is part of the Paracels chain, under Chinese control for more than 40 years but also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. A U.S. defense official also confirmed the “apparent deployment” of the missiles.

China’s foreign minister said the reports were created by “certain Western media” that should focus more on China’s building of lighthouses to improve shipping safety in the region. “As for the limited and necessary self-defense facilities that China has built on islands and reefs we have people stationed on, this is consistent with the right to self-protection that China is entitled to under international law so there should be no question about it,” Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year, and has been building runways and other infrastructure on artificial islands to bolster its title.

The United States has said it will continue conducting “freedom of navigation patrols” by ships and aircraft to assure unimpeded passage through the region, where Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.

Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said the deployment of missiles to the Paracels would not be a surprise but would be a concern, and be contrary to China’s pledge not to militarize the region.

“We will conduct more, and more complex, freedom of navigation operations as time goes on in the South China Sea,” Harris told a briefing in Tokyo. “We have no intention of stopping.”

News of the missile deployment came as Obama and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations concluded a summit in California, where they discussed the need to ease tensions in the South China Sea but did not include specific mention of China’s assertive pursuit of its claims there.

China’s increasing military presence in the disputed sea could effectively lead to a Beijing-controlled air defense zone, analysts

A U.S. Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracels last month, a move China condemned as provocative.

China last month said it would not seek militarization of its South China Sea islands and reefs, but that did not mean it would not set up defenses.

Taiwan President-elect Tsai Ing-wen said tensions were now higher in the region.

“We urge all parties to work on the situation based on principles of peaceful solution and self-control,” Tsai told reporters.

Vietnam’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But in a rare move, the country’s prime minister on Monday pressed Obama for a greater U.S. role in preventing militarization and island-building in the South China Sea.

Images from civilian satellite company ImageSat International show two batteries of eight surface-to-air missile launchers on Woody Island, as well as a radar system.

The missiles arrived over the past week and, according to a U.S. official, appeared to show the HQ-9 air defense system, which has a range of 125 miles (200 km) and would pose a threat to any airplanes flying close by, the report said.

In November, two U.S. B52 strategic bombers flew near artificial Chinese-built islands in the Spratly Islands.

Asked about the report, Bill Urban, a Pentagon spokesman, said: “While I cannot comment on matters related to intelligence, we do watch these matters very closely.”



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President Obama Begins The Hard Sell on TPP Deal

Obama TPPNegotiations over the complex trade deal took more than five years. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama began what may be a similarly difficult task, selling the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to Congress and the American public.

Obama met with business and agricultural leaders at the Department of Agriculture. The site of the meeting reflects the urgency that farm groups have attached to the deal to remove tariffs and other trade barriers that would increase exports ranging from meat and poultry to grains and cotton.

Obama emphasized that the deal would eliminate or reduce more than 18,000 tariffs that participating countries impose on U.S. exports.

“We are knocking down barriers” and providing American businesses and workers with access to new markets,” Obama told reporters at the conclusion of the closed-door meeting. He also said the pact has strong labor standards that will, among other things, prohibit child labor.

Leaders of trade groups representing the film, travel and technology industries were among those who attended the meeting with Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“Under this agreement, rather than places like China, we’re rewriting the rules for the global economy,” Obama said.

It will be weeks before the full scope of the agreement announced Monday is known, but several labor groups are worried that it will result in American jobs being sent to countries with lower wages and less stringent labor and environmental standards. A congressional vote on the pact is not expected to occur until well into next year, providing the unions with the chance to maximize leverage with lawmakers coveting their support.

The president has to wait 90 days before signing the pact, and only then will Congress begin the process of voting on it. Approval of the deal would give Obama a legacy-defining victory. To achieve such a win, Obama will need help from Republicans and will need to overcome doubts from a key Democratic constituency. In the hours after the trade deal was announced, some union leaders made clear that a candidate’s stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership will determine whether he or she can expect support. While unions have lost political clout as their numbers have declined, their political action committees donated more than $60 million to campaigns during the 2012 elections. About 90 percent of that money went toward Democratic candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Chris Shelton, president of the Communications Workers of America, whose members include customer service reps and computer technicians, said the union will “hold accountable those members of Congress who support this giveaway to the 1 percent.”

Tom Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said, “This is a very, very serious and dangerous proposal, and those who would see fit to simply fall for another trade deal, thinking it is good for America, they will incur our dedicated effort to unseat them.”

Buffenbarger said his comments applied to the congressional races. In the presidential race, his union has already endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton. It’s unclear where Clinton will come down on the trade agreement, but Buffenbarger said the endorsement stands.

Clinton’s chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., moved quickly to voice his opposition.

“Wall Street and other big coporations have won again. In the Senate, I will do all that I can to defeat the #TPP agreement,” Sanders tweeted.

Another Democratic candidate, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, has been highly critical of the trade pact in recent months.

The TPP is designed to encourage trade among the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. The pact would reduce tariffs in the participating nations in a bid to open markets.

Democratic lawmakers representing major manufacturing districts voiced skepticism that the pact would help their constituents.

“American workers should be skeptical of the specifics of this new trade agreement. Past trade deals like NAFTA have hollowed out America’s manufacturing base and shipped thousands of American jobs overseas,” said Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich.

As some of the expected opponents quickly objected, others needed to advance the deal voiced some caution. Members of the House Agriculture Committee have said they’re concerned about a lack of access for rice farmers and the dairy industry.

“While I am encouraged to hear that U.S. livestock products such as beef and pork will see significant gains in market access, it will take a coalition of many to move TPP over the coming months,” said committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas. “At this time, I am skeptical that these concerns were sufficiently addressed but will remain open-minded.”


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Reformer Joko Widodo Sworn In As Indonesia’s New President

Joko WidodoIndonesia’s Joko Widodo took over as president of the world’s third-largest democracy on Monday with supporters’ hopes high but pressing economic problems and sceptical rivals set to test the former furniture businessman.

Widodo won a narrow victory over a former general in a July election with promises of clean government and tackling entrenched interests. It was the first time in the young democracy’s history that a president was elected from outside the established military and political elite.

“This is the time for us to unite our hearts and hands, this is the time for us … to reach and realize an Indonesia that has political sovereignty, economic independence and cultural character,” Widodo said in his inaugural speech to a packed parliament.

His priorities will be getting to grips with slowing growth in the resource-rich country, as well as deteriorating government finances, a heavy subsidy bill and flagging investor interest.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attended the inauguration along with various Asian leaders including the prime ministers of neighboring Malaysia and Singapore, the Sultan of Brunei and Australia’s prime minister.

The former mayor of the city of Solo and governor of the capital, Jakarta, is untested on the national and international stages but he already faces resistance from the establishment to his transparent, can-do approach to governance.

“He has climbed up to the top of the pyramid but he’s still weak within the powerful political class,” said Achmad Sukarsono, a political analyst at the Habibie Center, think-tank.

Thousands gathered on the streets of the capital, Jakarta, waving flags and banners to celebrate the unprecedented ascent of the small-town businessman to leader of the country with the world’s biggest Muslim population.

“This is the first time we’ve been this happy after voting,” minibus driver Susanto said while waiting for Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla to pass by on a horse-drawn carriage.

“The government is truly close to the people.”

Widodo, 53, is an avid heavy metal fan and is expected to join the celebrations later on Monday and jam with a rock band.

The new president has been struggling to build support in parliament without indulging in the old game of trading support for jobs, but his refusal to swap cabinet posts for backing has driven unaligned parties to the opposition, leaving him with a minority that is set to face resistance to his reforms.

Even Widodo’s staunchest supporters have worried that his principles might stymie his reforms. But the lean, affable president with a common touch has been resolutely optimistic about working with the legislature.

After weeks of gridlock, Widodo last week sought to improve ties when he met with opposition leader Prabowo Subianto and prominent opposition member Aburizal Bakrie, who congratulated him and pledged to support his government, though reserving the right to criticize.

Widodo focused much of his inaugural speech on his plan to make Indomesia, a sprawling archipelago of about 13,500 islands, a maritime power.

“We have for too long turned our backs on the ocean, the straits and the bays. This is the time for us to restore it so we will prosper like our ancestors,” he said, referring to the archipelago’s maritime heritage.

He has promised to expand the country’s ports to help revive economic growth, but will need to find the funds for such an ambitious project.

His first big test looks set to be cutting fuel subsidies in the next two weeks to avoid breaching a legal limit on the budget deficit, which is under pressure from a shortfall in tax revenues and the slowest economic growth in five years.

Higher fuel prices have sparked protests in Indonesia before and contributed to the downfall of long-serving autocrat and then president Suharto in 1998.

Within weeks of taking office, Widodo will be in international limelight with an Asia-Pacific summit in Beijing and a G20 summit in Australia.

Kerry, who will meet Widodo later on Monday, will urge him to maintain the active role in regional foreign policy pursued by the previous administration, amid concern the new president may be more inward-looking given a preoccupation with domestic agendas.

“What we see in the region is a pretty steady calling for Indonesia to remain active in foreign affairs,” said a U.S. official traveling with Kerry said.

Kerry will also meet the prime ministers of Malaysia and Singapore, the Sultan of Brunei, Australia’s prime minister and the foreign minister of the Philippines and will seek more help in the U.S.-led effort against Islamic State in the Middle East.

His discussions will cover ways to block recruitment of fighters, preventing the return of hardened fighters to the region and blocking financing, a U.S. official said.


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Russia and West Step Up Rhetoric and Exchange Accusations

Ukrainian troops are pictured in the eastern Ukrainian town of KramatorskRussia has reacted angrily to additional sanctions imposed by the European Union over Moscow’s role in the Ukraine crisis, saying they would hamper cooperation on security issues and undermine the fight against terrorism and organised crime.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry also accused the United States, which has already imposed its own sanctions against Moscow, of contributing to the conflict in Ukraine through its support for the pro-Western government in Kiev.

The 28-nation EU reached an outline agreement on Friday to impose the first economic sanctions on Russia over its behaviour in Ukraine but scaled back their scope to exclude technology for the crucial gas sector.

The EU also imposed travel bans and asset freezes on the chiefs of Russia’s FSB security service and foreign intelligence service and a number of other top Russian officials, saying they had helped shape Russian government policy that threatened Ukraine’s sovereignty and national integrity.

“The additional sanction list is direct evidence that the EU countries have set a course for fully scaling down cooperation with Russia over the issues of international and regional security,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“(This) includes the fight against the proliferation of weapon of mass destruction, terrorism, organised crime and other new challenges and dangers.”

The EU had already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on dozens of senior Russian officials over Russia’s annexation in March of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and its support for separatists battling Kiev’s forces in eastern Ukraine.

The decision to move towards targeting sectors of Russia’s economy came after last week’s downing of a Malaysian MH17 airliner, killing 298 people, in an area of eastern Ukraine held by the Russian-backed separatists.

The United States and other Western countries accuse the separatists of downing the plane with a surface-to-air missile supplied by Russia. The separatists deny shooting down the plane and Russia says it has provided no such weapons. Moscow has suggested Kiev’s forces are to blame for the crash.

On Saturday, Britain’s Foreign Office accused Russia of making “contradictory, mutually exclusive claims” in blaming Ukraine for the tragedy and said it was “highly likely” the separatists had brought it down with a Russian-supplied missile.

In a separate statement on Saturday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Washington shared responsibility for the crisis.

“The United States continues to push Kiev into the forceful repression of (Ukraine’s) Russian-speaking population’s discontent. There is one conclusion – the Obama administration has some responsibility both for the internal conflict in Ukraine and its severe consequences,” the ministry said.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany, Europe’s largest economy which also has strong trade ties with Russia, spoke out strongly in favour of the new EU sanctions against Moscow in an interview published on Saturday.

“After the death of 300 innocent people in the MH17 crash and the disrespectful roaming around the crash site of marauding soldiers, the behaviour of Russia leaves us no other choice.We remain true to our course: cleverly calibrated and mutually agreed measures to raise the pressure and towards a willingness to have serious talks with Russia,” he said in the interview, conducted on Friday.

In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said he would hold talks in the Netherlands next Wednesday with his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte on how to secure full access for international investigators to the site of the plane crash.

“This will require the cooperation of those in control of the crash site and the Ukrainian armed forces,” he said.

The separatists remain in control of the area where the plane came down. A total of 193 Dutch nationals and 43 Malaysians were among the victims aboard MH-17, which had been flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Russia has said it wants an independent investigation into the crash, under U.N. auspices. The Kremlin said on Saturday President Putin had spoken by telephone with Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott about the need to allow international recovery experts safe access to the crash site.

At least 27 Australians were killed in the crash.

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China to U.S. Stay Out Of South China Sea Disputes

South China seaChina told the United States on Tuesday to stay out of disputes over the South China Sea and leave countries in the region to resolve problems themselves, after Washington said it wanted a freeze on stoking tension.

Michael Fuchs, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Strategy and Multilateral Affairs, said no country was solely responsible for escalating tension in the region. But he reiterated the U.S. view that “provocative and unilateral” behaviour by China had raised questions about its willingness to abide by international law.

China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, which is believed to contain oil and gas deposits and has rich fishery resources. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also lay claim to parts of the sea, where about $5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes every year.

China’s Foreign Ministry repeated that it had irrefutable sovereignty over the Spratly Islands, where most of the competing claims overlap, and that China continued to demand the immediate withdrawal of personnel and equipment of countries which were “illegally occupying” China’s islands.

“What is regretful is that certain countries have in recent years have strengthened their illegal presence through construction and increased arms build-up,” the ministry said in a statement.

China would resolutely protect its sovereignty and maritime rights and had always upheld resolving the issue based on direct talks with the countries involved “on the basis of respecting historical facts and international law”, it added.

China “hopes that countries outside the region strictly maintain their neutrality, clearly distinguish right from wrong and earnestly respect the joint efforts of countries in the region to maintain regional peace and stability”, it added, in reference to the United States.

Recent months have seen flare-ups in disputes over rival offshore claims.

Anti-Chinese riots erupted in Vietnam in May after China’s state oil company CNOOC deployed an oil rig in waters also claimed by Vietnam, which has also accused China of harassing its fishermen

China’s official Xinhua news agency said authorities had on Tuesday deported 13 Vietnamese fishermen and released one of two trawlers seized recently for illegally fishing close Sanya on the southern tip of China’s Hainan island.

Relations between China and the Philippines have also been tested in recent months by their dispute over a different area. A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Manila said the Philippines strongly supported the U.S. call for all sides to stop aggravating the tension.

The United States wants the 10-nation Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China to have “a real and substantive discussion” to flesh out a call for self-restraint contained in a Declaration of Conduct they agreed to in 2002, with a view to signing a formal maritime Code of Conduct, Fuchs said.

A U.S. official said the issue was raised again last week with China at an annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a bilateral forum that seeks to manage an increasingly complex and at times testy relationship.

China’s Foreign Ministry said that it and ASEAN were carrying out the Declaration of Conduct and “steadily pushing forward” talks on the Code of Conduct.


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China Criticises U.S. for South China Sea Tensions

China navyChina’s foreign ministry blamed the United States on Friday for stoking tensions in the disputed South China Sea by encouraging countries to engage in dangerous behavior, following an uptick in tensions between China and both the Philippines and Vietnam.

China this week accused Vietnam of intentionally colliding with its ships in the South China Sea after Vietnam asserted that Chinese vessels used water cannon and rammed eight of its vessels at the weekend near an oil rig.

The United States has called China’s deployment of the rig “provocative and unhelpful” to security in the region, urging restraint on all sides.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying repeated that the waters the rig was operating in, around the Paracel Islands, were Chinese territory and that no other country had the right to interfere.

“It must be pointed out that the recent series of irresponsible and wrong comments from the United States which neglect the facts about the relevant waters have encouraged certain counties’ dangerous and provocative behavior,” Hua told a daily news briefing.

“We urge the United States to act in accordance with maintaining the broader picture of regional peace and security, and act and speak cautiously on the relevant issue, stop making irresponsible remarks and do more to maintain regional peace and stability,” she added.

Tensions are also brewing in another part of the sea, with Beijing demanding that the Philippines release a Chinese fishing boat and its crew seized on Tuesday off Half Moon Shoal in the Spratly Islands.

Philippine police said the boat and its crew were seized for hunting sea turtles, which are protected under local laws.

Hua said the Philippines’ actions were illegal as they had entered Chinese waters to seize the boat and its crew.

“We once more demand the Philippines immediately release them unconditionally … China reserves the right to take further action,” she said, without elaborating.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting rival claims to parts or all of the oil and gas rich waters from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.


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